Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
While technically this has nothing to do with US-India relations, all movie buffs including myself will relate to the challenge posed by this loaded question, “What’s the best movie you have EVER seen?” For many years I have had internal debates with myself and external ones with other movie buffs, and ever since college pored over and watched the movies on the American Film Institute (AFI) lists of the best Hollywood movies ever made. And hereby I give you my resounding answer: Hud. No, it’s not about the federal government agency- although the federal government prominently figures in the movie.
The question is admittedly quite loaded for several reasons. Isn’t comparing movies from different countries or different eras of history, like comparing apples to oranges? The technology and possibility of cinematography has changed dramatically over time. Then there is the question about genres. Some of the movies considered great by critics and the general public alike, such as Blade Runner, rely heavily on special effects rather than storyline or acting- but effects done well for their time deserve accolades too right? And then there is the intense white male bias in many compilation lists. The Godfather is no doubt a good movie but relies too heavily on Hollywood’s excessive fascination with the history of the Italian Mafia-and the darker, more sinister penchant of Americans to associate Italian-Americans far too much with the mob even to this day. Film and TV are no doubt largely to blame for this nonsense.
Citizen Kane is often heralded as the best movie of all time by some, but no doubt this story about a white male protagonist and his white male struggles, or that of a white family in It’s A Wonderful Life bring out the biases of critics, especially American ones. There’s also the mighty powerful 1-2 blast from the magical year of 1939: Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. All of these deserve to be in the conversation as truly excellent and classic movies. I have seen them all and love them all.
I consider the best war movie I’ve ever seen, by far, and a candidate for the best movie period (above all those named above) to be 13 Rue Madeleine from 1946, and the best horror movie to be the original Candyman. But can those rise to the level to claim the mantel of best ever? I don’t think so unless they can transcend the confines of their genre with their grandeur. These two genres are simply too hard to bring about the best in dramatic acting and plots.
For a time, my favorite movie was a more recent one, the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, which I saw in 1995. This epic dramatic tale of a man wrongfully imprisoned, and what happened along the way and at the end is probably the most inspiring movie I have ever seen. Then again, the Italian film Life is Beautiful from 1997 literally made me laugh out loud and also cry right in the theater. These two formed a close call at least for me for a few years, followed immediately by 1999’s Fight Club– a special and gripping film phenomenon the likes of which we will probably never see again. Each one deserves to be in the conversation. But there is a different joy one gets from watching pure, end-to-end action that is well done and uses fantastic special effects. At the pantheon of those types I would put The Matrix, Jurassic Park and The Terminator. And in my opinion, the best 3D effects movie of all time, by far, was Avatar, which finally brings a 21st century candidate. Followed closely by the Batman movie, of all things, The Dark Knight. Though many serious critics would scoff at all of these effects-laden action movies for even being compared. At minimum, I would argue The Dark Knight is easily the best comic book hero movie ever made- which is saying a lot as Hollywood has transitioned nearly full-time into this genre. And probably my favorite movie of all time from its 2008 release, until very recently.
On and on this goes. Probably for the majority of the last 2 decades I couldn’t pin the definitive best movie award on anything I’d seen. And that all changed in just one unexpected fell swoop during a pandemic in the summer of 2021, when I saw the 1963 movie Hud, featuring Paul Newman.
I chanced upon it while browsing for classic old movies on Hulu. Hud, folks, is without a doubt the best movie I have ever seen. I was so gripped by every scene, that I re-watched some of them by rewinding even the first time I watched the movie. I knew I was witnessing greatness in the acting and dialogue and wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed a key glance or a snide piece of body language. That’s how epic every scene was. Not a look, a movement, or a word wasted from end to end. And then I watched the movie again, the next night. And I will definitely watch this movie over and over through the course of my life.
This movie punches you in the gut and tugs on your heart strings, but it does it with a slow burn as the tension mounts slowly. There are no cheap tricks or special effects to draw a reaction. It’s earned the hard way, through buildups and callbacks and the arcs of the characters. There are four main characters, each played brilliantly, essentially in a glorified stage play that incorporates everything you could think of: family drama, tragedy, comedy, love, hate, moral conundrums, humor, action, financial troubles, patriotism, honor, physical and mental violence, a potentially over-reaching government, and a slow-building train wreck of a story you simply cannot turn away from, helmed by Paul Newman himself as the anti-hero. The acting is next-level by all of them and even the small-part side characters. All of the darkness of man you could possibly portray on film can be found right here in that character. There is an animal slaughter scene that brought a tear to my eye. The background is somewhere between a Wild West and rural agrarian countryside in Texas, with all of that luscious, deep slice of Americana that brings with it.
OK, I do no say this lightly, but I think HUD is the best movie EVER made. It won 3 Oscars and deserved much more than that, from accolades at the time all the way to the present day. Whether you agree or not about my love of HUD, or disagree that any of the other flicks listed above deserve to be in the conversation, I can guarantee that you will have a lot of fun trying to find out for yourself.